What I'm thinking of--what I'm remembering--is one particular football practice when one of my teammates began to hit me. Not hitting like you're supposed to, but hitting me with his arm after a play was done. This was Noel. I was not friends with him, not even really acquaintances. He was, socially, in the upper echelons of the high school world and I was one of the invisible minions for the most part. Now, I had met Noel before, early on when I'd first come to Iowa from Tennessee. This was the 7th grade and I was brand new to the school and bewildered (well, I was bewildered most of my teens) and was thrown into some kind of counseling session with some other students--something I guess all the students were put into. The counselor was, I guess, the counselor for our class all the way through our Urbandale school career (I hardly knew who the guy was). In this forced get-together we had to partake in a role-playing game where we pretended to all be in a life boat--with the likelihood we'd stranded on a deserted island--and, as best I can recall, we had to pick who should survive or not, that there was only so much room on the boat and only so many supplies or something. (Yes, a nice game.) We essentially were supposed to argue among us who should die and who should live. This was the counselor's set-up, mind you.
I guess the idea of the exercise was to either learn how to work together or get you to stand up for yourself, to list your qualities and qualifications to live. I immediately said I would get out of the boat--I would die. I mean, I did not take this seriously. I could see what was going on and I thought that it was idiotic. It was all pretend, so, heck, I'll jump off the boat and into the sharks . . . The counselor (Mr. Woodley?) did not like this. Noel scoffed. Okay, I thought, then I'll play. I said I'd stay. I said I knew how to live in the woods, to find food and build shelter. Noel came back and said that he could beat me up. This was his qualifications for him living and me dying. Hmmm. He was a small guy but a tough guy, I don't know if he could beat me up or not, but this was his logic for being a superior specimen.
Which brings me back to that day in practice. I was playing on the defensive line. Noel was somewhere, maybe even on defense too, my teammate. It was a practice play and someone ran the ball, was tackled, the coaches blew the whistle. And just before the whistle and then quite a while afterwards I could feel this guy on my back, not just on my back but he was taking his forearm--which was padded--and repeatedly smashing it into my helmeted head. He was reaching around and trying to get his arm between my face guard and helmet to hit me in my face, rendering blow after blow long after the whistle. And it was Noel.
I really didn't react. One: I was kind of shocked--why would he do this? And Two: I had hardly noticed it at first. I was sort of a big guy--especially compared to Noel--and he was sort of a nuisance on my back. In football, bodies are always crashing into each other and it took me a few moments to even realize he was hitting me with his forearm. I just couldn't quite fathom the point, didn't realize the purposeful maliciousness of it. I wasn't mad. I was simply perplexed. I thought that he was an idiot and--somewhat like the counselor meeting--I was confounded by this idiocy.
But, perhaps I was the idiot. No doubt the coaches liked this display of aggression. That anger was needed for a good football player. They don't need a player who is perplexed. That mean-streak (even if it borders on the sociopathic) is part of the competitive spirit, and to take it further, part of the competitive world. It's very much part of the American psyche: violence and competition, action over thought, attacking over consideration. Isn't that why football is the national sport--a game of controlled warfare? It's just like in the counselor's meeting when Noel said that he could beat me up so therefore he should survive and I should not, what he was saying is that he would kill me in order for him to survive.
But what may have surprised him is that, if it really had been real and not a game? If it was not just a psychological exercise in a room in a junior high in Urbandale, Iowa? I would have killed him first.